Eastern coyotes in Vermont

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(Host) Commentator Ted Levin isn’t content to have just your average bird-feeder in his yard; and some of his wild visitors aren’t very run-of-the-mill either.

(Levin) One recent morning, I awoke at dawn and glanced out our bedroom window just as a nervous coyote slipped from the woods and tentatively walked to my mammal feeding station. The animal stood for some time, eyes fixed on the woods, before he began to gnaw bits of meat from the rock-hard deer. Grabbing my binoculars, I hurried downstairs for an eye level look.

Although I’ve seen many darker coyotes and a few pale red like a red fox, this animal was a study in gray: gray and black, gray and white, gray with dashes of buff and cinnamon. And the cold flame of its eyes, burnt with the wildest, brightest, most incandescent yellow I had ever seen. Although many Vermont coyotes may weigh close to 50 pounds, the animal in my yard was no more than 25 pounds.

What manner of beast is the coyote? It is the most adaptable, the most intelligent, the most resourceful wild mammal in the Northeast, if not all America. Not only is the coyote a functioning part of wild Vermont, it has redefined the rolls of many other animals. The coyote eats deer and wild turkey, yet both herds thrive. The coyote doesn’t eat red fox or bobcat, yet both predators suffer its presence. As a recent immigrant to Vermont, the coyote is neither predictable nor sacred, and is blamed for everything but the weather.

On October 24, 1944, a fox hunter in Holderness, New Hampshire, shot a coyote, the first ever recorded in New England. Four years later, one went down in Vermont. By the 1960s, coyotes had become established in northern New England, and by the 1990s, a few individuals began appearing in seemingly unlikely corners of the Northeast: downtown Boston.

Today, Vermont supports between three and four thousand coyotes in the summer. And after mortality and dispersal have taken a toll, the population shrinks to between fifteen hundred and two thousand in the winter.

Our coyote stayed for more than an hour picking at the frozen venison. The wind made the animal twitch. To say that the coyote was wary would be an understatement. Who or what did it expected to emerge from the woods? Perhaps it was an outcast, a young male without a territory, without a mate, living in the vague demilitarized zone between adjacent packs.

Eastern coyotes are much more secretive than western coyotes. They prefer the woods to the meadows, the night to the day, and do not often broadcast their exuberance, although last night was a pleasant exception. From somewhere across Gillette Swamp a pair of coyotes hurled their songs toward the heavens, coyote answering coyote, their voices cueing around the hills like billiard balls.

To honor the occasion my boys began calling our valley “Coyote Hollow.” So, not only does the state now have a new beast. I’ve got a new salutation as well.

This is Ted Levin from Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center, Vermont.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer specializing in natural history.

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